Milling soft white club wheat could mean millions in local benefits
By DAN WHEAT
WENATCHEE, Wash. -- Milling soft white club wheat into flour could boost grower returns and mean millions of dollars in revenue for Washington state.
That's what representatives of a fledgling company, The Gateway Milling Project of Almira, Wash., told a state legislative committee Sept. 19.
About 10 million bushels of soft white club wheat is grown annually over about 400 square miles in Lincoln and Adams counties. Currently, it is blended with other soft white wheat and sold as grain, said Mary Anne Dorward, Gateway representative.
She spoke to the Legislative Committee on Economic Development and International Relations chaired by Lt. Gov. Brad Owen at Wenatchee's Confluence Technology Center.
More money could be made, Dorward said, if only one-tenth of what is produced annually was converted into a pure, high-quality flour for baking.
If the entire 10 million bushels was milled, annual gross sales would increase from $94 million to $235 million, she said.
The company proposes to divert only 1 million bushels, not touching the rest, which is blended and mainly sold overseas.
"There is a misconception by the Washington Wheat Commission that we're impinging on their turf but there's plenty of room for a niche product," Dorward said.
That niche could grow with new strains of club wheat developed by USDA ARS geneticist Kim Campbell, she said.
New varieties will increase per-acre yields and be suitable for lower elevations and higher rainfall so more club wheat can be grown, Dorward said.
Currently, soft white club wheat only does well where it is grown in Lincoln and Adams counties, she said.
"No one has developed soft white club wheat as a product by itself," Dorward said. The quality makes it "the holy grail of wheat. A golden egg. The potential is huge."
The company has potential buyers in Oregon and Malaysia and interest in South Korea, said Anthony Marino, a company vice president.
Several legislators expressed interest in Gateway's plans.
Gateway is applying for a $100,000 USDA matching grant for a feasibility study and business plan and will seek $5 million to $10 million to build a specialty mill in Almira, Dorward said. When milled in high volumes, soft white club wheat clogs traditional mills, she said.
Mark Weed, finance committee chair of the Puget Sound Meat Producers Cooperative, told the committee about the success of the cooperative's USDA-inspected mobile slaughter facility in southwest Washington. The unit processed 133,000 pounds of meat so far this year, increasing returns for growers from what they would be if selling live animals at auction, Weed said.
The 14-member legislative committee heard presentations from state Department of Agriculture marketing program managers and from tree fruit interests before touring Crunch Pak apple slicing company and Liberty Orchards tree fruit candy company in Cashmere.